James W. (James William) Buel.

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scribed their mantiers, virtues and mode of life ; likewise
the birds and animals were exhibited, as also the fruits and
foreign plants, and their value to man explained. In a like
manner the gold ore, in its native state, and in ornaments,
was then produced to delight the avaricious eyes of the
sovereigns and their court. Under the influence of his san-
guine temperament Columbus could not forbear to point
out, as if by prophecy, a greater promise of future explora-
tions and discoveries. The thing^s displayed as the fruits
of his first voyage were mere hints of more abundant things
to come.

The effect produced by this recitation and exhibition was
well marked. At times the King and Queen exhibited


great emotion, and at the close of the interview, prompted
by religious impulse, they sank upon their knees, offering
up thanksgiving for the great things which had been ac-
complished in their reign. After the sovereigns had thus
poured forth their thanks and praises, the great choir of the
Royal Chapel took up the anthem of the Te Dcmn and
rendered it with all the unction and solemnity of the hour.

At the close of the first interview with Ferdinand and
Isabella, Columbus was conducted to the place assigned for
his residence and entertainment. But the interest attach-
ing to his person and his deeds did not quickly subside.
The people of Barcelona and the surrounding region con-
tinued to wMtch for his appearing, and to follow his train
wherever he went. Meanwhile his mind was occupied with
the revision of old plans and with new dreams which came
with his triumph. The possibility of doing some great
thing for the extension and uplifting of the Catholic cause
in the far cast occurred, as it had often done before, in this
hour of his exaltation. One of the motives which he had
formerly presented to the King and Queen for patronizing
his voyage of discovery was the religious use to which the
vast wealth of the Indies might be diverted by the sover-
eigns in case they should be able to replenish their coffers
from the Orient. The particular thing now contemplated
was the old project of recovering the Holy Land and the
tomb of Christ from the infidels.

At the present juncture, Columbus did not hesitate to
offer his services and the expected wealth of the New World
in the sacred cause of expelling Islamism from Palestine,
He engaged within the space of seven years to furnish, from
his part of the profits of the Indies, the means with which
to raise an army of fifty thousand infantry and four thousand
horse for a. new crusade. Nor did he doubt that in another
five years a second army of like proportions could be raised


and equipped from the same resources. To do this thing
he recorded a vow. Nor can there be any doubt of his
confidence and sincerity. His dream contemplated the
deliverance of Western Asia and Eastern Europe from the
Turks and Arabs, and the setting up of the Cross in place
of the fallen Crescent.

In a short time the intelligence of the discovery of another
world was disseminated not only throughout Spain, but
over all Western Europe. Everywhere the tidings were
received with astonishment, as though the revelation had
come from another planet. Perhaps at no other epoch, and
with no other event in the history of the human race, had
so sudden and great a transformation been accomplished in
the thoughts and speculations of men. The misty con-
jectures of a thousand years respecting the mysteries of the
ocean and the figure of the earth were suddenly swept away.
Vague mythologies, geographical fictions, artificial construc-
tions, and possibilities of an impossible geography, dim and
exaggerated stories of the unknown deep and islands of the
West, were brushed with one stroke of a mngic hand into
that limbo of oblivion where had accumulated, was accum-
ulating, and still accumulates, the vagaries, the myths and
the superstitions of the human mind. Henceforth no
rational being, informed to any considerable degree in the
elements of existing knowledge, could doubt the sphericity
of the earth and the practicability of sailing around it. It is
from this point of contemplation that the work of Columbus
assumes its just importance in the history of mankind.

In the Columbian age, intelligence of the things done bj'
men still ran with difificulty along the impeded channels of
intercourse. The flying post was yet no swifter of wing
than the foot of man or flcetness of the galloping steed.
None had yet conceived of the possibility of subordinating
the elements of nature to the purposes of dispatch. The


flying car, the ocean steamer, the electric flash : how far
away were all of these from the imaginations of that era
which saw the revelation of the New World !

Nevertheless the news went abroad. It was borne by sea
to Italy and was heard with wonder in those old sea-coast
towns of the Rivieras, out of which the man Columbus had
arisen to revolutionize the opinions of mankind with respect
to the possibilities of the habitable globe. It was carried
through the notches of the Pyrenees, and was heard at
Lyons, at Aix, and Paris. It was disseminated to North-
western Europe, and Giovanni Kaboto, of Venice, heard the
story in the streets of London, marveling much at the
thing done, but believing it more than possible. It spread
through Central and Eastern Europe, till the sound
thereof was heard in the city of the Eastern Caesars —
just forty years before conquered by Mohammed II. and
his Turks — was rumored in Antioch, in Cairo, in Damascus,
and fashioned into vague story by the barbaric Kurds guard,
ing their flocks from the prowling jackals among the ruins
of Khorsabad and Nimrud.

Such, however, were the uncertainties of knowledge in
the Columbian age that none might discern the true nature
and limitations of the great event. The data which Colum-
bus had brought back with him from the hitherto unknown
West were misinterpreted and misapplied by the discoverer
himself, as well as by all the wise men of the generation.
The Admiral was fixed in his belief that he had reached the
East Indies and the shores of Asia. His confidence that
Cuba was the easternmost cape of the Asiatic continent was
unshaken, and his beliefs in these particulars were accepted
by all. The errors thus arising — many and peculiar as they
were — were mixed and mingled with all that was thought
and said and done. The theory of the situation thus bound
together the western shores of Europe and the eastern


borders of Asia by an easy and practicable voyage of less
than three thousand miles of unobstructed waters. The
resources of the Orient seemed to be thus suddenly displayed
as if Mome beneficent destiny stood ready, with a tremendous
cornucopia, to pour out the treasures of the most ancient
and opulent nations of the globe into the lap of waiting
Europe. These speculations might well div^ert us from the
mere narrative of events to consider the question of the age
from the standpoint of philosophical inquiry. But we must
return to the Admiral and his work, leaving the reader to
formulate for himself not only the splendid vision of the
scene, but the true nature and dependencies b)- which the
great event was held in its historical connections. Columbus
was in the heyday of a great renown. Perhaps no man of
history was ev'er in a situation to enjoy more fully the
honors and rewards of successful and glorious enterprise.
The discoverer drank it all in with many a full draught, but
without satiety. To him, if much had been accomplished,
still more remained behind. The mind of the Admiral
was of that rare and noble fashion which can only live in
the heat and light of ideality and imagination. Already,
before his departure from Barcelona, greater visions than
ever before had risen upon him, and though he was dazzled
with the realization of his dreams, he nevertheless, with
his habitual sagacity, made his arrangements for the future.
It has not happened to men of other than royal blood to
become in a half-feudal age the familiar companions of kings
and princes. This fate, the happiness of which the reflective
mind may well be disposed to doubt, was given in full
measure to Columbus. His sovereigns treated him almost
as an equal. King Ferdinand rode abroad with him, and as
if to couple the honor with the honors of the future, the
young Prince Juan was mounted on the other side of the
sovereign. Now it was that that famous Columbian coat of


arms was devised, granted and confirmed to the Admiral
as a perpetual memorial to him and his descendants. It was
fashioned like the royal banner of Castile. In the lower
left-hand corner were the outlines of a sea dotted with islands
and shores, significant of the immortal discovery which
Columbus had made. On the right-hand quarter, below,
were the five memorable anchors ; above was that rampant
lion which has been so much prefigured in the heraldry of
nations. Last of all, and at the left hand above, was the
castle, or citadel of strength, surmounted by the three towers
significant of the united kingdoms, Castile, Leon, Aragon.
To this was, appended that Spanish motto of great fame
which mankind will not willingly let die :

A Castilla y a Leon,

Nuevo niundo dio Colon.
Castile and Leon. Colon sets
A New World in their coronets.

To all these honors, other distinctions and emoluments
were gladly added by the crown. It was at this time that
the question of the actual first sight of the new lands in
the West was adjudged and decided. The issue, of course,
lay between Columbus himself and that Juan Rodriguez
Bermejo, of the Pinta, according to the statement of De
Lorgues, and of Rodrigo de Triana, as stated by Irving and
other authorities, whose cry of land on the morning of the 1 2th
of October we have mentioned as the certain signal of the
discovery. But the reader will remember that the Admiral
had already, several hours previously, seen a light. Two
things were involved in the decision: first, the honor of the
first glimpse of the New World ; and, secondly (not to be
despised), the pension which the sovereigns had promised
to the discoverer.

The question was not easily decided. Doubtless, if the
conditions had been reversed, that is, if Bermejo had seen


the light and Columbus had seen the land, the decision
would have been more easy. As it was, the royal court
adjudged the honor to him to whom it was only possibly,
though improbably, due, but was certainly less needy, and
doubtless deserved it less than the humble mariner of the
Pinta. As for Bermejo, the decision was accepted with in-
finite chagrin. He had staked everything upon his claim,
and the judgment against him was fatal to the one great
hope of his life. He immediately renounced his country
forever, cast aside the Christian religion as a delusion of
fraud and of sin, went to Africa, became an Islamite, and
died under the banner of the Prophet.

From the first day of his return to Europe — from the
moment that the intelligence of the great discovery was
carried to the ears of the sovereigns — it was evident to all
that the work done by Columbus was merely the first move-
ment of a vast enterprise. None were foolish enough to sup-
pose that the new countries in the Far West had been fully
revealed. The leading minds of Spain perceived at a glance
that the thing done was only the first glimpse at a gold
mine, the limits and extent of which none might know.
The imaginations of men flew to the far islands of the New
World, and began to construct there cities and temples and

Under such conditions, the project of new discoveries and
explorations flashed in full light about the Spanish Court.
The sovereigns in their very first letter to the Admiral, who
Avas then at Seville, made haste to tell him that he should,
in that city, before setting out for Barcelona, take the initia-
tive for a new expedition. Whatever things he might see
necessary to be done, to that end he should do, even before
his personal interview with their Majesties. Columbus
himself was deeply concerned about the second voyage, and
eagerly promoted the preparations therefor. The subject


was interwoven like a thread in all the communications
which he had with the King and Queen. It no longer re-
quired urging to convince the sovereigns of the importance
of extending their empire in the West.

The outlines of the new expedition, which now had its
relation to the West Indies and the methods of possessing
them, were at once devised. The summer — season most
favorable and indeed only favorable for the expedition —
was a Iready at hand, and it was necessary to expedite the
preparations, or else put off the voyage to another year.
The jealousy of Portugal, and the knowledge of what she
might attempt, furnished a whip and spur to the crown.
The sovereigns deemed it expedient to establish a sort of
bureau for the conduct of Indian affairs, and the city of
Seville was selected as the outfitting place of the enterprise.
At the head of this branch of the administration was placed
as superintendent and director-general, Don Juan de Fon-
seca. Archdeacon of Seville, a man of great abilities, but
little scrupulous in the matter of choosing his means and
methods. The treasurer of the new department was Fran-
cisco Pinelo, and the comptroller, Juan de Soria. The idea
was that the exclusive jurisdiction of all intercourse and
commerce between the mother country and the Indies
should belong to the bureau, and that everything not de-
vised and directed thereby should be under the ban of ill-
egality. One of the first steps was to establish at the port of
Cadiz a custom house, to which all the prospective com-
merce of the Indies should be reported, and the scheme of
administration extended to the creation of a like office in
San Domingo, which was to be administered by the Admiral
himself, or his subordinate.

We may pause here a moment to note the favor in which
Columbus was held by the nobility. The greatest men of
the kingdom — and they were many — sought his ficquaint:-


ance, and gave their countenance to his cause. Among
those with whom Columbus now fell into intimate relations
was Pedro Gonzales de Mendoza, the Spanish grand car-
dinal, of whom we have spoken in a former chapter. The
latter invited the discoverer to his castle, and discussed with
him at length the future policy of the Church with respect
to the new countries of the West, and in particular the best
means of converting the natives.

It was during his stay at the castle of Mendoza that Co-
lumbus, being at a banquet given in his honor by the car-
dinal, gave the celebrated reply and demonstration to one
of the company who was disposed to cavil at the originality
of the recent work of discovery. This small courtier — not,
we may say, without some reason, but with the worst of
bad manners — began to inquire of the Admiral whether, if
he had failed to reach the islands and mainland of the
western seas, some other would not have been soon led under
like motives to undertake and accomplish the enterprise.
Hereupon Columbus took an egg, and passing it to the
company, challenged any and all to make it stand on end.
None could do it. None perceived the possibility of doing
it. Having it returned to him, the Admiral brought it
down with a force endwise upon the table, broke and crushed
the shell to a certain extent, and left it standing. The appli-
cation and meaning of the act were sufificiently clear: you
can make an egg stand on the end provided you know how
to do it.

The six Indians who had been taken to Barcelona were
regarded with profound interest by churchmen, who thought
it wise to have them baptized and instructed in the doc-
trines of Christianity. This was accordingly done, and the
conceit of the time pointed them out as the first evangelists
and examplers of the true faith in the Indies. So little ap-
prehension did any man of that age have of the laws which


govern human evolution that all supposed the aborigines of
the West Indies able, by the touch of the Church, to ad-
vance at once to the plane of an ancient faith having its
origin and development among a Semitic people in the Far
East, and to enter at a single bound into the communion
and relationship of civilized nations.

Meanwhile, preparations were going forward rapidly and
successfully for the new voyage. The theory of the situa-
tion was this: Columbus had discovered the Indies by the
western route, and the discovery having been made under
the banners and patronage of Spain, this fact gave to the
Spanish crown a right to occupy, possess and govern the
islands and continents which had been thus found. As to
the peoples occupying those lands, the aboriginal nations,
they had no rights of possession which Christian kings and
princes must recognize and observe. The monarchs of
Christendom had, since the Crusading epoch, an agreement,
amounting to a clause in international law, that any Chris-
tian sovereign whose subject might discover unoccupied
lands or regions inhabited by Pagans, should have the right
of discovery, pre-emption and preoccupation, as against all
other princes Avhatsoever. Each monarch conceded to the
others this right of discovery, and the rule was now plainly
applicable to the case of the Spaniards in the West Indies.
It was this principle that had secured to the recent Kings of
Portugal the exclusive rights to their province of La Mina
and the coast of Guinea ; and it was the same principle
which now held back and thwarted the ambition of John
II., chafing and fretting in his anxiety to clutch the islands
lately visited by the Columbian fleet.

We have already spoken of the letter sent by Columbus
on his arrival to His Holiness, the Pope. The Spanish
sovereigns readily took up the thought of Columbus relative
to a dividing line through the Atlantic under the sanction


of Papal authority. They accordingly made haste to open
negotiations with Alexander VI. concerning the proposed
arrangement. The Pope was himself a Spaniard, and the
tie of birth had been recently strengthened by many events
well calculated to draw the attention and affections of the
Supreme Pontiff to his native land. In the very year just
past the Spanish sovereigns, in a war which had many of
the features of the Crusades, had first cooped up and then
ultimately expelled the Islamite Moors from the peninsula.
With scarcely less zeal, they had assailed, persecuted, sup-
pressed and robbed the Jews. The whole of Spain had
thus been redeemed and consolidated under the cross — a
circumstance most grateful to the ambitions and pontifical
pride of Alexander.

The Spanish monarchs, in opening the question at the
Court of Rome, were doubtful whether so great a claim as
that which they now advanced would be acknowledged and
ratified- Ferdinand deemed it prudent in his letter to the
Pope to assume that the sanction of His Holiness, in con-
firmation of the rights of the Spanish crown to the new
lands discovered in the west, was not essential to the valid-
ity of the claim ; but the good, obedient and faithful
Catholic Majesty thought it best — such was his allegation
— as a true son of the Church to ask the Holy Father to
ratify and confirm aright that which the princes of Chris-
tendom had already conceded the one to the other.

The Pope for his part was greatly elated with the intelli-
gence. He perceived the expediency of granting the claim
of their most Catholic Majesties. Accordingly, on the 3d
of May, 1493, he issued that celebrated Bull, establishing
the line of demarcation between the discoveries of Portugal
and those of Spain. The line, as we have said before, was
drawn north and south one hundred leagues to the west of
the Azores, On the east of the line Portugal should hav^


free course in the discovery, possession and occupation of
all lands not previously visited or occupied by the subjects
of a Christian king. To the west of the line Spain should
have pre-emption. The New World, whatever it was, should
be hers. Her work of discovery and occupation should
go on unimpeded and her rights should be exclusive and

Thus' were all the inhabited and habitable parts of the
globe, except those regions which were already occupied by
Christian states and kingdoms, divided by a Papal decree
with an imaginary line drawn north and south through the
Atlantic Ocean. The concession of the Supreme Pontiff
was sufBciently ample, and sufficiently surprising, when
followed to its probable results. Spain might discover and
occupy all uninhabited and Pagan lands lying westward of
the division. Suppose that the Spanish fleets should press
their way westward around the earth, where would their
rights be limited ? Might they not go on around until by
circumnavigation they should take the whole world ? Or,
in the case of Portugal, might she not press her discoveries
eastward until she should come around to these very West
Indies, claim them, and take them under the Papal sanc-
tion? The Pope had, in a word, granted everything to
Spain, and everything to Portugal. But the Pacific Ocean,
still unknown, as well as the American Continents, lay
between to prevent a conflict of claims in the region of the
antipodes ; the Papal Bull was saved from absurdity by the
bigness of the globe.

The new bureau for the government of the Indies was
quickly organized. The establishment was destined to
grow in course of time into that Royal India House, under
the auspices of which the commercial and political affairs
of Spain and her outlying possessions in the West were so
long, so despotically, and so profitably directed, The au-


thority of the office was absolute, both as to the persons
concerned in the trade with the Indies and the trade itself.
It was to this bureau, under the conduct of De Fonseca,
that the business of fitting out the new squadron for Colum-
bus was now intrusted.

The enterprise was pressed with the utmost vigor. A
decree was issued, by which Fonseca and Columbus were
authorized to purchase any ships that might be in port on
the coast of Andalusia, or, in case of refusal, to impress them
for the expedition. The same despotic rule was established
in the matter of furnishing and equipping the vessels, and
even in enlisting the crews. Mariners might be conscripted
under pay for the proposed service, and the civil officers of
the province were commanded to lend their aid in carrying
out the provisions of the act.

As might be supposed, however, the work of obtaining
ships and supplies and men was now no longer difificult.
Many captains were ready to offer their vessels for such a
voyage. The supplies might be readily procured from
stores that had been sealed against all petitions when the
first contemplated voyage was to be undertaken. As for
the crews, the spirit of adventure had now come to supply
a motive of embarkation on an expedition to the wonderful
Indies across the Atlantic. Some dif^culty arose over the
appropriation of money for the second voyage. The work
was under the patronage of the King and Queen. As for
the treasury of the new bureau of the India House, that
was empty. But the sovereigns set aside a part of the eccle-
siatical revenue, and this was placed to the credit of the
Indian Secretary, Pinelo. In the previous year, during the
persecution and expulsion of the Jews, vast amounts of
property, especially in jewels and plate, had been confis-
cated by royal edict, and this also went into the new treasury.
Finally the secretary was authorized to negotiate a loan, if


such should be needed, for the expeditious fitting out of
the squadron.

Columbus, in these days of honor and influence, took
care to fortify his own interests and those of his descend-
ants by obtaining an additional patent and confirmation
of his rights from the King and Queen. The paper in ques-
tion was the third of those remarkable documents upon
which the first political relations between Europe and
America were established. In the present case, Columbus
deemed it prudent that the new patent of authority should
recite the existing agreement between himself and their
Majesties made in the preceding year. The second charter
was drawn accordingly, at the city of Barcelona, under date
of the 28th of May, 1493. After enumerating all the exist-

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 37)